Quirks & Quarks

No longer a myth: a part human, part pig chimera

Scientists hope to one day be able to grow human organs inside pigs to address the global organ shortage.
This undated photo provided by the Salk Institute on Jan. 24, 2017 shows a 4-week-old pig embryo which had been injected with human stem cells. The experiment was a very early step toward the possibility of growing human organs inside animals for transplantation. ((Salk Institute via The Associated Press)

Scientists have created the first human-pig chimera. The team used stem cells from humans and inserted them into pig blastocytes, which in turn were implanted into pigs to create embryos that were part human, part pig.  

Scientists let the embryos develop for a few weeks before they were terminated. This is a highly controversial area of study and had to be privately funded. In the U.S. you can't do this kind of research with public money. 

Human iPS cells (green) contributed to a developing heart of 4-week-old pig embryo. (Salk Institute)

Dr. Jun Wu is a stem cell biologist and staff scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He was the lead author of this study published in a recent issue of the journal Cell. He hopes to further develop his technique to one day grow human organs inside pigs. He believes this will help address the global organ shortage. 

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